The generation that can make peace with nature

Most of us live our lives without a single thought of the environment. I mean, why would we worry about the earth, it has been around for thousands of years and it will be around for thousands more, right?

It is hard predicting the future and even though many people have tried, no one can know exactly what will happen in a hundred or thousand years from now.

However, that doesn’t mean that the warnings about global warming, the destruction of earth’s biodiversity and other environmental issues should be ignored.

That’s why the World Environment Day 2021 is calling on people to ‘Reimagine, Recreate and Restore’ in order to save our planet.

World Environment Day

The 5th of June marks the annual celebration of World Environment Day – an initiate by the United Nations which aims to create awareness about the environmental issues, including marine pollution, global warming and wildlife crime, to name only a few; and thereby encourage action to make the necessary changes needed to preserve our beautiful planet and its biodiversity.

World Environment Day (WED) was established in 1972 during a UN conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm.

Two years later, in 1974, the world celebrated WED for the first time with the theme “Only One Earth.” It has been celebrated ever since by over 143 countries annually.

Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is Reimagine. Recreate. Restore. Instead of focusing on the negative, the day encourages people to take control over the issues that are plaguing the environments.

On the WED website it reads:

“This is our moment. We cannot turn back time. But we can grow trees, green our cities, rewild our gardens, change our diets and clean up rivers and coasts. We are the generation that can make peace with nature. Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid.”

Briefly News took a look at some of the threats the environment faces and how we can change our ways to preserve what is left. We asked Professor Karen J Esler for her insights into some of the environmental issues.

Esler is a distinguished Professor and the previous head of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University (2015-2020).

Prof Esler is a member of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology since its inception in 2004 and she currently serves as African Associate Editor for the journal Conservation Biology.

There are too many environmental issues

While climate change is one of the big environmental problems that humanity will face over the next decade, it isn’t the only one.

We asked Professor Esler which environmental issues she thought were the most serious and she couldn’t highlight only one.

“I think the most serious environmental issue today is that I can’t necessarily pin-point a single issue – there are so many. We are losing biodiversity (genetic diversity, species, habitats and ecosystems) at dramatic rates, this means we are eroding nature’s essential services sometimes taken for granted,” she said.

These include the “clean air, clean water, nature experiences that influence our well-being, diverse healthy soils, crops, microbiomes and diets that contribute to our health.”

Prof Esler added that the insatiable appetite for fossil fuels and land is triggering catastrophic climate change and increasing risk of infectious diseases – which means it is not only the earth that suffers, but our health as well.

We took a brief look at only some of the issues that have impacted the environment.

Global warming as a result of CO2 emissions

According to the UN, CO2 emissions have increased by almost 50% since 1990, which accelerates global warming. Climate change as a result is causing meteorological events like heat, drought, insect outbreaks and floods.

Wildfires have been more frequent and more severe in the past couple of years in countries around the world.

Out of control fire on Narrow Neck Plateau, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia. Climate change is causing extreme weather, prolonged droughts, and increasing bushfires. CREDIT: Getty Images.

These issues threaten the survival of millions of people, plants and animals. In some parts of the country, farmers are asking for help keeping their livestock alive as a result of droughts, while in other parts an unusually wet summer led to crop fields flooding, resulting in poorer harvests compared to the previous year.

Deforestation led to the Amazon to lose over 17% of its forests in the last 50 years

Another issue that is leading to the loss of biodiversity is deforestation. According to WWF, forests make up over 31% of the earth and account for 80% of the world’s land-based species, such as elephants and rhinos.

However, the world’s forests are under threat as a result of deforestation and forest degradation. In 2019, the tropics lost nearly 30 soccer fields’ worth of trees a minute and WWF reported over 17% of the forests in the Amazon have been lost over the past five decades.

Pine tree forest deforestation shown from above. CREDIT: Getty Images.

Oceans – Climate change, waste and the impact on marine life

The ocean has an important role to play in the preservation of the planet. It makes up over 71% of our planet’s surface and 95% of all the space available to life. The ocean has an important role to play in regulating the global climate.

They absorb CO2 and heat, which help regulate the weather. According to the US’ National Ocean Service, the ocean produces more than 50% of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere.

WWF reported that it is estimated over 83% of the global carbon cycle circulates through the ocean. Ninety percent of the world’s greenhouse gases have also been trapped in the marine waters over the last two centuries.

This could lead to more severe weather as the oceans help determine rainfall, droughts and floods. The high amounts of CO2 absorption and warming of the oceans are threatening coral reefs. There are numerous species that rely on these reefs for food and protection and they play an important part in the oceans’ ecosystems.

According to scientists, should the current rates of temperature increase continue, coral reefs could be extinct by 2050.

Global warming is not the only thing impacting the ocean. Overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution and habitat degradation have all led to the ocean suffering.

An environmental issue of plastic pollution problem. Sea Turtles can eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish. CREDIT: Getty Images.

One of the biggest issues to address in order to preserve the oceans and marine life is pollution. Millions of tons of plastic and other waste are polluting the ocean. According to a report by environmentalist Ellen MacArthur introduced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2016, by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

“In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight),” the report reads.

MacArthur’s report was based on a 2015 plastics study by the U.S. environmental group Ocean Conservancy. Although it can’t be guaranteed that MacArthur’s “analysis” will be correct, it does show the gravity of the situation.

How the Covid-19 pandemic hit reset on the environment… temporarily

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated economies and claimed the lives of over 3.71 million people as of 5 June, 2021. However, it also showed that we are able to ‘restore’ the earth.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared Covid-19 a pandemic it brought the world to a temporary standstill – there were less cars on the roads, boats in the water and airplanes in the sky.

As a result, air quality improved in many cities and we saw a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world.

CSIR reported in May last year that satellites showed a decrease in air pollution in South Africa during the hard lockdowns.

Although it is unrealistic to expect the same measures to be taken to stop climate change, the Covid-19 lockdown did prove that with the right adjustments, we can help restore the environment.

It is our responsibility to protect what is left of our planet

Prof Esler has highlighted how important it is for society to intervene and protect what is left of our biodiversities.

She said:

“Wicked problems are interesting in that solutions are intricately tied to their complexity, and to resolve them requires an expanded focus. This means looking beyond the direct drivers of change (land or sea use change, over exploitation, invasive species, climate change) to include indirect drivers such as the values that drive our decisions, our governance, social and economic systems etc.”

Prof Esler added a transformative change is needed and the attention should never stray far from this cause.

According to Esler, the United Nations declared 2021 – 2030 as the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”, which poses a global challenge to reverse the “trend of degradation by scaling up restorative actions.”

“For example – planting a few types of trees on a mass scale to sequester carbon may in fact pose a risks to biodiversity and cause greater problems such as increased catastrophic fire risks and changes in hydrology. A focus on complexity and diversity through ecological restoration might provide better opportunities,” she told Briefly News.

The time for change is now

It has never been more crucial to start finding ways to fight climate change and other environmental issues. Many countries have already started taking steps to implement ‘green’ solutions.

Pakistan hosted this year’s World Environment Day and the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke about climate change during a virtual event.

Khan urged rich nations to step up in the fight against climate change by reducing their carbon emissions and helping poor countries.

“This is a chance for the world to correct its course. Now we have the next decade for ecosystem restoration,” Khan said.

Renewable energy is one way countries could fight climate change. Photo of wind turbines and solar panels in Palm Springs, California. CREDIT: Getty Images.

Professor Esler reiterated how important it is that society starts taking these environmental issues seriously before it is too late.

She said:

“If nothing is done to stem the tide of degradation and to quell the loss of biodiversity, I think we can only expect further negative feedbacks to our own health and well-being, leading to a world stripped of glorious diversity and one full of inequalities and unjust outcomes. This is not the future I wish to envision.”

This story, originally published by Briefly News, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters. 

Taxes and more taxes: what to expect from NHI

A sneak peek at the National Health Insurance Bill shows the government is planning a single national pricing regimen and a surcharge on personal income tax, as well as an employer tax, and a minor role for medical aids.

The target date for full implementation is 2026.

The 88-page bill, which Times Select has seen before its public release on the morning of Aug 8, is now destined for heated debate in the National Assembly.

Past draft bills sparked vigorous debate, with the government claiming private medical schemes were its staunchest opposition. This bill provides more details than the proposed bill released in 2018.

In its preamble, the bill says it is targeted at addressing social-economic inequality and wants to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and to free the potential of each person”.

To make this a reality the government is proposing to establish and maintain a National Health Insurance Fund financed through “mandatory prepayment” that aims to achieve sustainable and universal access to quality healthcare services.

According to the bill, this fund will serve as the single purchaser of all healthcare services – pooling finances and strategically buying healthcare services, medicine and products from accredited service providers.

But where will the money come from?

The fund’s chief source of income will be appropriated from money collected from general tax revenue, including centralising money, now allocated to provincial health departments.

Doctors and hospitals will have to adhere to certain treatment protocols and guidelines determined by the minister and fund, and will prescribe medicine and health products from a “formulary” or a list provided by the government.

Income will also be derived from a payroll tax and a surcharge on personal income tax.

Medical scheme tax credits currently paid to medical aid members in the form of a tax deduction will also be reallocated into the NHI.


The first notable change for many South Africans pertains to the current referral system. Patients will now be made to first access healthcare services at primary healthcare level (a general practitioner or nurse) and will only see a specialist if referred.

Inside a hospital ward in South Africa. Source: Gallo Images/City Press/Muntu Vilakazi

Second, academic hospitals such as Cape Town’s Groote Schuur, Durban’s Albert Luthuli and Johannesburg’s Chris

Hani Baragwanath will be run by the national government instead of provincial health departments.

Their administration, management, budgeting and governance will be “made a competence” of national government.

Healthcare service providers, establishments and suppliers will have to be properly accredited and meet high standards before they are reimbursed for their work, and in the case of specialist services payments will be based on performance.

Emergency medical services will be reimbursed on a “capped case-based fee” basis with adjustments made for case severity where necessary.

All patient information, including fingerprints and residential addresses, will be recorded on a single database, the National Health Information System.


Doctors and hospitals will have to adhere to certain treatment protocols and guidelines determined by the minister and fund, and will prescribe medicine and health products from a “formulary” or a list provided by the government.

All medical professionals will have to adhere to a single national pricing regimen.

The minister has been empowered by the bill to make regulations that payments are conditional to meeting quality standards of care, “or the achievement of specified levels of performance”.

The minister can also determine how an individual health worker will be paid.

Private medical aids

The NHI Bill makes a one-sentence mention of the role of private medical schemes. It says that once it is fully implemented medical schemes may only offer complementary cover for services not reimbursable by the NHI Fund.

The target date for full implementation is 2026.

Asylum seekers and what the bill describes as “illegal migrants” will only be entitled to emergency medical services and “services for notifiable conditions of public health concern” (contagious diseases).


NHI will be implemented over three phases, according to the bill.

The first, which sought to pilot “health system strengthening activities”, supposedly took place between 2012 and 2017.

The second phase, scheduled from 2017 to 2022, seeks to continue these undefined health system strengthening activities; develop NHI legislation and amendments to other legislative documents; establish institutions that will act as the foundation for a fully functional NHI Fund; and purchase personal healthcare services for vulnerable groups.

The third phase is scheduled for between 2022 and 2026, during which the establishment and operationalisation of the fund as a purchaser of healthcare services must be completed.

The article by Katharine Child was first published by Tiso Blackstar on Aug 8.

With an aim to provide universal healthcare and increase taxes, there was extreme national interest in the future of the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill as it affected every South African. This was the first time the bill, which had been planned for years, was making it close to becoming law and ending years of mystery. Coverage by Times Select and TimesLIVE began in July, when it was clear it had been approved by senior members of the government. Hours before the proposed law was even released at midday on Aug 8, a team of reporters from Times Select, Tiso Black Star broke down the implications of the bill at 5am on the same day. With the help of political reporter Amil Umraw, Times Select scored a copy of the country’s new draft NHI plan from a senior trustworthy source the day before it was made public. The team then deciphered 88 pages of jargon and published the story with clear explanations of what was to come for readers from a middle class background. It suggested that health insurance would end as the middle class know it, leaving unanswered questions regarding their access to healthcare. Some of the flaws raised by the report include how it was unclear that bureaucracy will fix the health system as well as the lack of evidence that the ideas suggested were viable. Times Select was the first news website to lay out the government’s plan, which was widely condemned by economists and health experts as being unimplementable, poorly thought out and not designed to fix the broken state health system. In the follow-ups published on Times Select and TimesLIVE, the papers wrote about loopholes and a lack of clarity in the bill, which the department of health never addressed. The team also interviewed the man in charge of the office meant to deliver NHI to give readers real information – continually.